Canyonlands National Park is located in southeastern Utah nearby Moab and Arches National Park. The dramatic and barren landscapes of Canyonlands were carved out by the Colorado river millions of years ago by natural erosion forming the unique canyons, buttes and arches that you can see today.
A visit to Canyonlands should not be missed if you are in the area as there is so much exploring that you can do. Most visitors discover all the highlights within the Island in the Sky, a flat-topped mesa with many breathtaking overlooks.
There are other areas in Canyonlands National Park that you can visit if you have more time and a 4WD vehicle. For this post I will be covering all the best things to do in the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands.
Entrance Fees to Canyonlands
- Free with the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass
- $30 for a private vehicle (15 passenger or less)
- $25 motorcycle and its riders
- $15 per person without a vehicle (cyclists, hikers or pedestrians)
Another option besides purchasing the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass is to get the Southeast Utah Parks Annual Pass. This pass costs $55 USD and is valid for one year. It admits one private, non-commercial vehicle or its pass holder to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and Natural Bridges National Monument.
Where is Canyonlands National Park?
Spanning almost 338,000 acres, Canyonlands National Park is the largest park in Utah and is located about 90 minutes from Moab and Arches National Park. Canyonlands is divided up into 3 distinct sections due to the Colorado and Green River: Island in the Sky, the Needles and the Maze. Most visitors explore the main sights within Island in the Sky since this area is the easiest to reach from Moab. The other sections, such as the Needles can be a bit more remote and may require a 4WD vehicle.
What to Do in Canyonlands
The top things to see and do within Canyonlands National Park can mostly be found within the Island in the Sky section. This makes it quite easy to see all the highlights since there isn’t a lot of driving distance between each one.
Discover what to do in Canyonlands National Map with this map that you can save to reference later.
Mesa Arch Canyonlands
Mesa Arch in Canyonlands is one of the most popular arches to visit and offers one of the best sunrise views in the park. This unique, window-like arch sits right at the edge of Buck Canyon and creates a frame around the beautiful scenery behind it. From the opening of the Mesa Arch you’ll be able to see the La Sal Mountains in the distance and the White Rim Valley below.
There are a couple of key photo spots at the Mesa Arch so be sure to spend some time wandering around the area to capture all of its beauty.
There is a small parking area at the Mesa Arch Trailhead where you can begin walking along a marked trail to reach the arch. The easy, 0.6 mile loop trail takes you roundtrip from the parking lot, to the Mesa Arch and back. Be sure to wear hiking or trail running shoes with some tread for walking around at the top. Like most places in Utah, there aren’t any barriers along the edge of the cliff and the rocks can sometimes be slick or slippery.
how to get to mesa arch
The Mesa Arch Trailhead is located less than an hours drive and about 40 miles southwest of Moab. The easiest way to get there is to take US-191 to the UT-313 and follow signs for Canyonlands National Park. Once you’ve passed the Island in the Sky Visitor’s Center you’ll drive another 6 miles until you see the parking area on your left.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park is one of Utah’s most beautiful parks with breathtaking panoramic views of the vista below. The best place to go within the park is to the Dead Horse Point Overlook where you can see the unique landscapes of canyons, mesas and buttes carved over millions of years from erosion. The view from the overlook is spectacular no matter what time of day you arrive, however the best time to come is sunset.
Luckily, Dead Horse Point State Park is not very crowded and there is plenty of room to spread out along the rocks at the overlook.
Fees at dead horse point state park
Dead Horse Point State Park does require its own entrance fee. This is because it is a State Park and is not included in the Canyonlands National Park fee, the America the Beautiful Park Pass or the Southeast Utah Parks Annual Pass.
The day use fees are good for 2 days and are:
- $20 per vehicle with up to 8 passengers
- $15 for Utah seniors aged 62 or older
- $10 for a motorcycle
- $4 for pedestrians or cyclists
Drones are prohibited in Dead Horse Point State Park from March through October. During the other months visitors are allowed to fly drones only with a permit and $10 fee.
Dead Horse Point State Park Camping
There are two main campgrounds located within Dead Horse Point State Park as well as two locations to stay overnight in yurts. The Kayenta Campground has 21 sites and costs $50 USD per night. This campground does require a reservation and usually gets booked up pretty quickly so be sure to reserve well in advance during peak season.
The Wingate Campground has 31 sites and can be reserved or first come first served. There are also four yurts at the Wingate Campground which can sleep up to 6 people and costs $140 USD per night. The RV campsites cost $50 USD per night whereas the tent only campsites cost $40 USD per night.
There are five yurts available at the Moenkopi yurt campground in Dead Horse State Park. Just like the Wingate yurts, these hold up to 6 people and costs $140 USD per night.
how to get to dead horse point state park
From Moab travel along the US-191 for about 9 miles to UT-313 and continue driving for another 23 miles until you reach the end of the road. Here you’ll find a parking lot, restroom and trail that leads to the overlook and other views of the area. Before reaching the Dead Horse Point State Park overlook stop along the way at the Basin Overlook to see the distinctly blue Texas Potash Ponds in the distance.
Dead Horse State Park is open daily from 6AM to 10PM.
Shafer Canyon and Shafer Trail Overlook
The Shafer Canyon Overlook is a very short, 0.3 mile trail that gives visitors unobstructed views of the Shafer Canyon.
Sitting at the top of the canyon along Grand View Point Road, just past the Shafer Canyon Overlook, is the Shafer Trail Viewpoint. There is a small parking area and an easy climb up a few rocks to view the winding hairpin turns of the Shafer Canyon Road.
The White Rim Road and Potash Road merge with the Shafer Canyon Road where it becomes a narrow, switchback dirt path for adventure seekers. This road does require a 4×4, high clearance vehicle and is located deep in the canyon valley. The trail is about 19 miles long and goes from Moab to Canyonlands National Park.
Green River Overlook
The Green River Overlook is located a few steps away from the parking area in the Island of the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park. From the lookout you’ll get panoramic views of the deep valleys formed from the flowing Green River. This impressive landscape extends so far that visitors can see the White Rim Road and sections of the Maze.
The Green River Overlook is a must see if you are exploring Canyonlands National Park. Be sure to bring both a wide angle lens and a zoom to capture different perspectives of the deep canyons.
how to get to green river overlook
To reach the Green River Overlook viewpoint area you’ll take US-191 from Moab to the UT-313. From there you will continue straight when it turns into Grand View Point Rd. Keep driving past the visitor center and just after the Mesa Arch parking area you will turn onto Upheaval Dome Rd. You’ll make the next turn onto Green River Overlook Rd and follow it all the way to the parking area.
Canyonlands National Park Weather
The best time of year to visit Canyonlands is either the spring or fall. During the spring, Canyonlands will have cooler temperatures during the day making it more pleasant for hiking and being outside. The temperatures will typically drop quite a bit in the evening so be sure to pack appropriately if you are camping.
The summer is not only peak season for tourism but it’s also the hottest time of year. However, it is also the time of year with the longest daylight hours which can be a benefit for those wanting to maximize their time. Also, in the late summer and early fall you may experience some afternoon thunderstorms as well.
During the winter you may experience below freezing temperatures and the occasional snowfall.
Is Canyonlands National Park Open?
Yes, Canyonlands National Park is open to visitors with some limited services. At this time the trails, roads, campgrounds, restrooms and visitor centers are currently open. However, the museums and theaters are still closed until further notice.
There is one basic campground in Canyonlands National Park in the Island and the Sky section called Willow Flat Campground. Is is located along Green River Overlook Road just before the Green River Overlook. The campground has 12 sites which are all first come, first serve and is open year round. It costs $15 per site and the facilities are pretty basic with restrooms, picnic tables and fire pits. There is no running water at this campground so you will need to get drinking water outside the visitor center.
Tips for Visiting Canyonlands National Park
Pack food and lots of water
There are no restaurants in Canyonlands National Park and the closest place to get drinking water would be at the visitor center. The climate is dry and hot in Utah, especially in the summer, making it easy to get dehydrated without even realizing it. Be sure to drink enough fluids and stay hydrated when visiting Canyonlands and the other parks.
Download an offline map
As with most of the destinations in Utah outside of the main cities, you’ll likely have very little or no cell service. I highly recommend downloading an offline map such as maps.me or using a paper map.
Wear proper shoes
Due to the lack of barriers along the edge of the canyons and cliffs it is important to wear proper footwear. Hiking or trail running shoes are the best since they will have tread on the bottom that will prevent you from slipping on the slick boulders or rocky dirt. During the winter or rainy season the trails may become muddy and you’ll want to avoid slipping and getting injured.
use sunscreen and wear a hat
The sun is very strong and the desert provides very little shade. Make sure to wear sunscreen (at least SPF 30) and reapply often. Wearing a hat will also help prevent unnecessary sun exposure on your face and help to keep you cooler especially during the summer months.
drones in canyonlands national park
Flying drones in Canyonlands National Park is strictly prohibited. Make sure to follow the proper guidelines and do not fly your drone in areas where they are banned.
Are Dogs Allowed in Canyonlands National Park?
Currently pets are not allowed at Canyonlands National Park, as well as most of the other parks within Utah. You are not allowed to bring pets on the hiking trails, overlooks, in the backcountry and inside the visitor centers or other buildings. For more information on where your pets are allowed or not allowed within Canyonlands National Park you can visit their official website HERE.
Exploring Utah’s unique and diverse landscapes? Don’t miss out on visiting Goblin Valley State Park!